For twenty years now since the 2000 election the "red versus blue America" framing has dominated our political discourse. The pandemic has made the country's political geography even starker, as "red states" have often refused to put mitigation strategies in place and "blue states" have embraced restrictions.
During my life, I have migrated back and forth across that line. I grew up in rural Nebraska (deep red), went to college in Omaha (purple), lived in Chicago (deep blue), went to grad school in central Illinois (reddish purple), worked in Grand Rapids (ditto), worked in East Texas (deep red), and lived in North Jersey while working in New York City (blue.) The politics of the nation have colored my feelings about these places. While I still hate it when people put down my home state, I don't defend it with the same elan that I used to.
My ambivalence comes from the knowledge that the red state world that made me is involved in making this country an unlivable, ungovernable mess. Living here in my progressive pre-war New Jersey suburb I can go close by and catch glimpses, which usually repulse me. (It should be said that thinking in terms of red and blue "states" doesn't work.) Back in June I went into a liquor store in my in-laws' conservative automotive suburb and behind the counter was a big sign saying "Vote Trump in 2020 and make liberals cry again." (I put my beers down and left.) This week as I drove back from a hike in a state park I saw massive Trump banners and blue line flags in a rural New Jersey town.
The revulsion I felt in these supposedly "all-American" places comes across so well in the Talking Heads' "The Big Country," the last song on their second album. The narrator is flying from the city over the suburbs and farms, noting the day to day life below. He finds himself repulsed by the tract housing and supermarkets, concluding "I wouldn't live there if you paid me to!"
The music is different for the Heads, acoustic guitar strumming and a Western, soaring slide guitar that sounds almost like a parody of country music. It's not just the band who's left the city, the music has too. Unlike country music, which is full of songs praising rural life in opposition to the big city, this song is the embodiment of that infamous New Yorker cover showing the limited view of the country held by Manhattanites. It's an answer song to Buck Owens' "I Wouldn't Live In New York City (If They Gave Me The Whole Damn Town)."